For years, the American youth sports landscape has been dominated by a model commonly referred to as pay-to-play. The name speaks for itself; if you want to play organized sports, you will likely need to pay for the privilege. With this added barrier in place, curious children across the country missed their chance to get involved, simply because their families couldn’t afford it. For generations of kids, enjoyment depended upon payment.
But there is a better way. Here in the Twin Cities, TC Sol has found a way to end this unfair access to quality sports programming, changing lives and challenging the rest of the nation to be better. To help advance their mission, Minnesota United have partnered with TC Sol for multiple events in the past, and plan to continue to do so in the coming days.
TC Sol founders Sparkle and Mario Wimberly refuse to accept the status quo. Through the game of futsal, a 5v5 version of soccer typically played with a smaller ball and a hard surface, the Wimberly’s have brought accessibility, sport and so much more to our community.
“In a world of pay-to-play athletics, where many communities are left out, we have developed a model that gives kids the opportunity to play competitive futsal in a positive environment that promotes giving back to the community,” reads their website. “We have eliminated the financial component and have developed a positive sense of community that has never been done before.”
When they started their organization, the Wimberly’s committed themselves to making the game available at no cost to the athletes while maintaining the same environment provided by a pay-to-play organization. This vision was made possible by sponsors, community organizations and generous donations from people who support the idea of an equitable future in sports.
The program is guided by four principles: fun, development, community and accessibility. They believe in the power of the beautiful game and are committed to using it as a vessel for positive change, regardless of any participant’s ethnic or economic status.
Between free clinics and quality coaching, Mario Wimberly has created an environment that kids can’t get enough of. “We want to let the kids explore the game, get comfortable with it and fall in love with it,” he said.
Though it began as a free futsal club, TC Sol has become more than that. Their annual Sol of the Cities futsal league brings together schools all over the Twin Cities, from Como Park High School to Prior Lake High School, and many in between. These partner schools send teams to play in this summer league, with age brackets ranging all the way from six years of age to high school.
Through what they call a “serve-to-play” league, participants commit to one hour of community service for every hour of futsal they play. Sparkle Wimberly believes that this is the most meaningful form of payment.
“It’s social currency - contributing to the greater community as a whole,” she said. “To play futsal, you pay with your time, your service, your kindness, and your effort to help somebody else. It’s a model we’re very very proud of, and one that empowers so many young people.”
Players in this league are provided with full uniforms, lunch and coaching from licensed, professional soccer coaches, all at no cost. They foster a sense of cross-community unity, allowing kids to play against people they may never have had the chance to meet otherwise. At the end of the day, it’s the connections and lessons learned that the Wimberly’s want to ultimately stand out in the minds of the children they serve.
“We feel that we’ve created a good baseline to offer more access without just creating programming and expecting people to come,” Sparkle said. “There is a massive buy-in. People come to feel heard, seen, empowered and as though they can have an impact on the community they live in.”
Though Sol of the Cities takes place in the summer, the Wimberly’s are staying busy during the colder months. On Monday, February 20, BODYARMOR will be sponsoring the TC Winter SOLstice, a 3v3 futsal tournament for middle and high schoolers. The tournament will take place at Adrenaline Sports Center, with high school games beginning at 10 a.m. and middle school games starting around 12:30 p.m. just after.
This event is designed to be a fundraiser for the organization, but they are hoping to put an emphasis on the fun. Winners of the tournaments will receive fun prizes, including admission to the MNUFC home opener on March 11. For those not participating in the futsal, there will be food, music and MNUFC activation stations to enjoy as well.
“We’re going to play some futsal because we love it, but we want this to be a place of community-building,” Sparkle said about TC Winter SOLstice. “We want communities to come together, kids who have never met getting a chance to play with one another, and, ultimately, we’re just looking to have a really fun day with good food, good people, and good music.”
Winter SOLstice is free to attend as a fan, so mark your calendars and make your way to the Adrenaline Sports Center on President’s Day. As in all things TC Sol, everyone is welcome to join and enjoy some good vibes.